RUTLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Volume 39 No, 2
Rutland City in the Dark:
Northeast Blackout of
November 9 th 1965
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Map of the electrical outage in New York & New England in 1965,
About the Author
Clifford Giffin began his career in the
electrical utility industry in 1946 when he was
employed by the Public Electric Light Company
(PELCO) which was a small electric utility
serving the St. Albans, Vermont, area. He
transferred to the Central Vermont Public
Service Corporation (CVPS) when PELCO was
purchased by CVPS in the summer of 1953. At
the time of this story he was the Chief
Dispatcher for CVPS at its central dispatch
center located in Rutland at 77 Grove Street.
During his career at CVPS he managed several functions and was
its Vice President of Operations when he retired in 1990, after forty
four years in the electric utility industry. He and his wife Shirley
reside in Rutland City. Clifford is an active member of the Rutland
Historical Society where he brings energy, enthusiasm and experience
to his volunteer work for the Society. Currently he also serves on the
Society's Board of Directors.
The availability of electricity has been a fact of life for nearly a
century. Only an occasional severe storm or a brief interruption to
repair or replace equipment has been reason to lose electrical
service or so it was thought. But on 9 November 1965 there was no
storm, no equipment breakdown, but suddenly no electricity. It was
as if a giant galactic magnet had sucked away all the electricity in
much of New York and New England and for some time no one knew
This is a story of the great blackout of November 1965 and the
resolution of the local problem as it was seen through the eyes of one
of the principals charged with restoring electricity to Rutland.
The Quarterly is published by the Rutland Historical Society, 96 Center Street, Rutland
VT 05701-4023. Co-editors: Jim Davidson and Jacob Sherman. Copies are $2 each plus
$1 per order. Membership in the Society includes a subscription to the Quarterly and the
Newsletter.Copyright © 2009 The Rutland Historical Society, Inc. ISSN 0748-2493.
Rutland City in the Dark
November 9 th 1965
By Clifford Giffin
The year was 1965. Johnson was president and the Vietnam War
was raging. Here in New England there was great excitement in the
electric industry with the promise of nuclear electric power. One
exuberant expert publicly stated that electricity would be so cheap it
would not be metered. Electric heat was being promoted as efficient,
easy to install and inexpensive to operate,
By 1965 the electric industry in Vermont, consisting of over
twenty-five utilities, had been integrated electrically into a
statewide interconnected transmission system. The transmission
system was owned and operated by the Vermont Electric Power
Company (VELCO). Its three major stockholders were Central
Vermont Public Service , Green Mountain Power Corporation, and
Citizens Utilities Company.
In spite of Vermont's success in forming a statewide grid for bulk
electric power supply, New England, as an area, was still controlled
by individual electric utilities. Vermont's electric system frequency
control and other operating requirements for control were provided
by New England Electric System (NEES) which had its control
center for operations located in Millbury, Massachusetts.
At this time centralized operations and planning for the New
England Area was only a vision. It had been recognized that
centralized control for New England was a necessity, but competing
interests of electric company executives made it difficult to bring
centralized control and planning for New England into a functioning
In January 1965 I had been placed in charge of the Dispatch
Department function at Central Vermont Public Service Corporation
(CVPS) located down stairs at the corporate office headquarters at 77
Grove St. Operations had moved to this location from Cleveland
Avenue around 1960. This function controlled the company's
generating and transmission facilities and administered purchased
power contracts and other customer service related activities
necessary to operate the electric power system.
Central Vermont Public Service headquarters, 77 Grove Street
Clifford Giffin at CVPS on a typical workday.
Tuesday, November 9, 1965, ended as just another workday. The
weather was clear and seasonably cool and without storms in the
forecast. Leaving the office a little after 5:00 pm I drove to my home
on North Church St, a short drive from the office. As I came into the
house my wife looked at me with a puzzled look. "I'm surprised to see
you," she said.
"Why?" I asked.
"The lights have been blinking so I knew you must be having
problems," she replied.
I had been in the utility business for nineteen years and my family
knew that when the lights blinked Daddy was having problems. Even
when I was at home and outside I would be told if the house lights
As I stood in the doorway I did notice that the house lights seemed
quite dim. At first I thought it was because I was coming in from the
darkness then as I stood there I realized that that wasn't the reason
as they were getting dimmer.
"I'll have to get back down there," I said, rushing out to the car
without having taken my coat off.
Turning onto Grove Street from Crescent Street the streetlights
and traffic lights went out. As I continued along the street all the
houses were dark.
It was a really strange feeling without streetlights, traffic lights or
house lights. The moonlight lit up the roofs and streets with its pale
soft light. As I parked in the company parking lot, I noticed that the
emergency generator was running to supply power to the building. It
was a good feeling to know that our weekly exercise of the emergency
motor generator set was paying off.
My mind quickly played out different scenarios that could be the
problem causing the north end of the city to be without electricity.
Could it be a car pole accident or maybe a problem at the North
Rutland Substation? My mind toyed with the options. I knew the
North end of the city was served from that substation.
My experience told me the problem would be quickly discovered
and steps taken to restore service from either an alternate supply or
by promptly repairing the problem and that would be that.
As I rushed down the ground level corridor into the dispatch center
I found the dispatcher on duty, Howard Garrow, was busy talking on
the red emergency phone. This private line did not go through the
company switchboard and its purpose was for emergency
communications only. The company switchboard was lit up with its
twenty or more incoming lines, white lights flashing and each one
ringing, waiting to be answered. The time was 5:28 pm.
"What's going on?" I inquired.
Howard Gar row at the emergency phone.
Taking the phone off his ear for a second Howard looked up and
said, "I don't know. I'm trying to find out. I'm getting calls from
everywhere. I've called the on call man but...." and then he turned
back to the red phone.
As I was standing there trying to figure out how I could help, the
private phone from North Rutland substation flashed and rang.
Picking up the phone, I replied, "Yes."
"This is Bush and I am up at North Rutland substation and the
substation is flat. The switches are all open and all incoming
transmission lines are dead. I'll be here waiting to help with what I
can." (Gilbert "Bush" Howland was a company electrical and
"Thanks Bush," I said and hung up the phone.
Going into my office, adjacent to the dispatch office, I was able to
contact the Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO) dispatch
center on Wales Street and discovered that they were also
scrambling to find the source of the problem. They said their
transmission system was without power and that they could not
contact the New England Electric System dispatcher in Millbury,
Massachusetts. Knowing that VELCO was without electric service I
knew it was more than a local outage involving the northern part of
Then the North Rutland Substation phone rang again. "Yeah," I
Ready Room (adjacent to Dispatch Center). "Bush" Howland
(standing at right rear in dark suit) was at the North Rutland
Substation at this time.
"Giff this is me again. A guy just stopped out here with a CB radio
in his car and he says all of New England is out of power. Even planes
can't land in New York because the airport lights are off."
"I thought this was local," I remarked.
"You better think again. I'll let you know if I hear anything else. I'll
be here," he said as he hung up the phone.
By now the corridors on the ground floor at the 77 Grove Street
office building were crowded with employees trying to find out what
was going on and volunteering to help.
The company FM two-way radio speaker was crackling with
linemen and supervisors calling in to find out what was going on and
to tell the dispatcher where they were located. They knew that
switching likely would be needed to restore service. A beep was
sounding every minute or so from the radio speaker alerting the
dispatcher that the emergency generator was providing electricity to
the transmitter site at the top of Pico Mountain. The Company had
installed emergency generators at its mountain top radio sites so
that FM radios would function during power failures. Electricity to
the mountaintop was off quite frequently because to get to the
mountaintop the electric lines were situated on pretty rough terrain.
Now that I knew that electricity would not be available from
outside the state, we would have to attempt to restore service to
Rutland City with local generation, if we could. I knew the electric
requirements for the Rutland City area load was about twenty
thousand kilowatts and that we would need to start the gas turbines
located just off West Street if we were going to be successful in
supplying the city. In my mind I thought we could at least get
electricity back to the hospital, police, and fire department. Of
course, at the time, I had no idea how long it would be before the bulk
power supply would be available.
The problem was that the gas turbines that would be needed to
supply the electricity had to be cranked by electric motors to start
them rolling and there was no electricity available at the gas turbine
plant off West Street, or anywhere else.
The three gas turbines just south of West Street.
The sources available to supply electricity to the gas turbines were
the hydro stations on East Creek. It would be necessary to find some
way to get electricity from them to the gas turbine plant.
The hydro station operators were unfamiliar with the procedure to
start their hydro generator units without electric service. They were
in the dark at the stations except for DC lights from station batteries
and handheld lights.
The hydro units available in the Rutland Area were Glen Station on
Route 7, with a capacity of 1,500 KW, East Pittsford Station with a
capacity of 3,000 KW and then the three gas turbines that had a total
capacity of 15,000 KW. I knew if we could get them all on line we
would be able to supply most of the city.
I had been a station operator for Public Electric Light Company in
St. Albans until 1953. While I was working there the company would
lose electricity completely once in a while, as the company was not
connected to any source other than its own generation. With this
experience I knew the fundamentals of restoring a power system
from a complete shut down. Howard Garrow, the dispatcher on duty,
also came from the same company so he also had experience.
As one would imagine there was much frustration and confusion. It
was impossible to get through to other utilities that would have the
much-needed information. The ringing on many telephone
switchboards didn't work without electricity. No one of course had
thought electricity could be completely off. Duplicate electric lines
that had been installed as back up, didn't work as the supply had
failed. Many places did not have emergency lights. Outside lights at
substations were off so switchmen had to depend on flashlights to
Our first step was to try to energize the transmission line into the
gas turbine plant from Glen Station. But the operation failed.
The Glen Station on Route 7 just north of Rutland.
When that didn't work, we opened the transmission line on the
north side of East Pittsford Station and energized the North Rutland
Substation from the East Pittsford generators.
Generators at East Pittsford Station.
North Rutland Substation.
With the expertise of "Bush" Rowland as our switchman at North
Rutland Substation, we successfully energized the transmission line
into the gas turbine plant. With further help from employee
operators in substations, we had disconnected all customer use so
that there was a direct line from East Pittsford into the gas turbine
Once the power was into the gas turbine plant the operators and
the rest of the crew cranked one of the three gas turbines up to speed
and fired it off. In a few minutes it was on line at 60 cycles and proper
voltage, waiting for orders from dispatch to add load. Now we had
the one gas turbine and East Pittsford tied into our small power
Of course it still didn't serve any customers as we had opened all
the substation switches. The dispatcher then started restoring
electric service one circuit at a time. We would add a circuit and
check with the gas turbine operator to determine how it was going
and then add another circuit. Glen Station now had its two units on
line and our little electrical system increased its capability. If my
memory is correct, we closed the first circuit to the city at 6:20 pm at
the Lalor Avenue substation. It was a slow process, as adding
customers had to be coordinated with increasing the generation to
supply them. It was a procedure that I had thought about but had
never had to implement. The situation was one that the city had
experienced before when most of the city had been without
electricity during the flood of 1947.
The dispatcher had restored service to perhaps one half of the city
when VELCO called at 7:10 pm and said that the transmission line
from Plattsburgh, New York was energized into the Essex Junction
Substation and that they would be restoring service to the bulk
power supply shortly. Within a few minutes the VELCO
transmission lines came alive into Rutland and service was restored
to all of our customers. It was a warm feeling to know our customers
were back in service. Some areas, outside of Vermont, were not so
Two areas of CVPS, St. Albans with hydro generation, and St
Johnsbury that was connected to Comerford hydro station of New
England Electric Power, did not experience an interruption.
After electricity was restored I spent several hours trying to piece
together what had happened on the CVPS system, as I knew there
would be many questions.
The next day the Federal Power Commission sent a request for
representatives of Vermont and other New England utilities to come
to Washington DC as they would be holding hearings to find out what
had caused the massive failure. Wayne Edson, Vice President of
Operations, and Porter Noble, company attorney, and I flew to
Washington to be present. We chartered a plane from Rutland to
Albany and took the shuttle from Albany to Washington, My plane
ticket for the shuttle was $18.00,
At the hearing it was evident within the first five minutes that
CVPS was not involved. Testimony from major utility companies
quickly determined that the frequency was different between New
York and Canada, and that was where the investigation would be
focused. We left the hearing and returned home that afternoon.
Later it was determined that the failure had been caused by a relay
failure at the Sir Adam Beck station in Canada. A relay failed^
interrupting the large power flow coming into New York from Canada.
As the utilities in United States did not have the capacity to replace
it, the frequency kept getting slower and slower until station
operators opened switches to de-energize the total system to prevent
further damage to the equipment or to isolate their area from the
rest of the failing systems.
The largest unit in service at the time was big Alice, a 1,0000 MW
unit owned by Consolidated Edison of New York. As an example of
how unprepared utilities were, this steam driven turbine generator
unit experienced bearing failure because it did not have a steam
driven auxiliary emergency oil lube pump to supply bearing oil while
the unit was coasting to a stop following the power failure.
Subsequent to this event major modifications were made to all
electric power systems in the Northeast, Low frequency relays were
installed to automatically shed load at a predetermined level.
Emergency power sources were installed and reliable
communication systems were installed. Emphasis was placed on
forming the New England Power Pool.
In 1970 the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL) agreement was
placed in service and in 1971 its operation function New England
Power Exchange (NEPEX), became responsible for all bulk
transmission operations in New England and the entity responsible
for coordinating all operations with neighboring systems of New
York and Canada.
This story is how I remember the event as it occurred over forty years ago.